Three things on running, goals, and a plan to go with it

Chugging my way toward a goal.

I think there are generally two types of runners. The first kind encompasses those whose fitness revolves around the run. Training for races is a year-round endeavor. Their social lives might be centered on running, races and other runners. In terms of fitness, everything else is secondary, and there really is no offseason. These people could be anything from 5K speed-burners, habitual marathoners, ultramarathoners, or execisers who have found their “community” in running.

The second type of runner is the person who incorporates running into a larger fitness regimen. These people mostly enjoy it, but the intensity of their running workouts varies on the goals. Under this sizable umbrella will be recreational runners who race occasionally, exercise generalists (think Crossfiters, beginning exercisers or recreational athletes) or those who look to use endurance training for specific goals (professional athletes, adventure racers, mountaineers and so on). Rather than being the central focus of training, these people use running as one of many tools for conditioning.

I’m in the second camp, more or less. I don’t race year-round, and frankly, I don’t race much at all. Running is a means to an end, but it’s also something that clears my head and gets me outside. It doesn’t matter to me if that time is spent running two miles or 20. I run more when it’s cooler, and I definitely have an offseason where I’m running fewer than 15 miles a week.

That said, when the fall rolls around I look forward to packing on the miles and training toward a goal. And that goal would be a race or two. I’m not racing for a spot on a podium; I’m not that fast. But I like challenging myself, finding ways to make the body God gave me push past old barriers. The cooler temps of fall make this season the ideal time to do just that.

Last year, I’d come off a so-so period of training that gave me some mediocre results at the finish line. I’m getting older, and it would be easier (maybe expected?) to attribute eroding times to the inevitable progress of time. I know that will be true one day, but I refuse to give in now. So in the fall, I worked on a few things and earned an unexpected finish: my second-fastest half marathon time. It was cool seeing a training plan produce results.

This fall, I’m turning it up a notch. Once again, I’ve signed up for the Route 66 half marathon in Tulsa (this will be my fourth time to run it). I picked out a tougher training program (Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 half marathon plan), dialed back the lifting and plugged in some more time on the bike. I’m three weeks into it now, and a few things have become apparent.

Lean and mean back when I was in race shape. Maybe by November I’ll be in this form again.

First, it sure feels good to regain my conditioning. I had fun with the weights, and there is a different kind of conditioning that comes with strength training, but there is a beauty to seeing your endurance return. As the miles pile up, so does the sense of accomplishment. I’m not there yet. But I’m getting back into race shape.

This piece of paper is partially running my life. But that’s not a bad thing.

Second, a structured program is a good thing. You can make stuff up on a day-to-day basis, and there’s a place for keeping things unstructured. No one wants to be on a training program for 365 days a year. But following a training program works. When you stick to the program, results will follow. It’s a great metaphor on life: get the information you need to succeed and put in the work. Success often follows.

Cross-training on this guy FTW.

Third, it’s good to have one workout a week that’s just fun. It’s important to have something to look forward to that’s not a rest day or a burger binge. For me, it’s the weekly cross-training workout on my bike. These workouts never exceed 60 minutes, which is a modest bike ride by most people’s standards. I’m not a “cyclist,” but I enjoy my time in the saddle. Sunday rides are the best.

It’s going to get harder, and balancing work, life and this training program will get tougher as November rolls around. But I’m cool with that. The hard things are usually worthwhile, and I know if I can stay healthy and stick to the plan I should see improvement over races past.

Are you running in the Route 66 Marathon of the half? Or are you doing any other fall races? If so, let me know how it’s going in the comments. You can also follow my progress on the training program daily on Twitter by searching the #rt66run hashtag.

Bob Doucette

Advertisements

Your morning vert: Grizzly Peak D from Loveland Pass

Grizzly Peak D, near Loveland Pass, Colorado.

My first trip up to Loveland Pass was two-fold in purpose. First, I wanted to see what the hiking was like. Second, I wanted easily accessible mountains close to Denver where I could get a little altitude.

I checked both boxes with a short hike to Mount Sniktau three years ago, a good training exercise just days before a more difficult outing far to the southwest in the San Juan Range redoubt of Chicago Basin.

But as a bonus, I got to see a more extensive trail system that led to a number of other peaks nearby. A year later I was back, but adverse weather conditions cut my trip short, with just a quick jaunt up Cupid, a 13,000-foot bump near Sniktau, as my sole summit. Still, that hike allowed me to get a closer look at its taller neighbor, Grizzly Peak D, and a couple of 14ers in the distance, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak.

A wise retreat that day left me hoping to return and go a little farther down the trail to get my next Loveland Pass summit.

Another two years passed before I got my shot. Following a great three days in New Mexico, I was hoping to build on my altitude training by coming back up the pass to explore more of the area.

Grizzly Peak D is, in its neighborhood, a relatively minor summit along the Continental Divide. At 13,427 feet above sea level, it’s overshadowed by its 14er neighbors, and doesn’t have the dramatic profile of some of the other 13ers nearby like Lenawee and the Citadel. But for my purposes, it was perfect.

I hiked this one solo. Which is to say, in the Front Range during the summer months, hiking solo doesn’t mean you’re alone. A half-dozen other people were on the route that day, with two couples sporting dogs.

Front Range morning views.

The entire route is above treeline, with the trailhead at the top of the pass – 11,990 feet above sea level. You get a few dozen yards of easygoing strolling before the route steepens dramatically. It’s a shock to the system, especially for a flatlander like me. But unlike the past couple of times I was here, it didn’t feel as rough as normal. Plenty of hard breathing to be sure, but I made good time to a turnoff away from the Sniktau route and toward Cupid.

That piece of trail is pleasant hiking, being relatively flat. A quarter-mile later, a series of switchbacks starts the vert in earnest to gain the ridge connecting Cupid with Point 12,915. Soon after, I was atop Cupid – just as scenic as I remembered it, but this time with clear, blue skies and none of the threatening weather that was present a couple of years earlier.

Going up Cupid, looking toward Mount Sniktau.

It also gave me a good view of the connecting ridge between Cupid and Grizzly D.

My memory failed me a bit, seeing that I thought I remembered only one bump on the ridge between the two mountains. Inspecting the route now, I saw plenty of up-and-down between me and my goal – a series of small high points on the ridge that signaled a surprising amount of vert to be gained on what is just a 5.5-mile round trip.

Coming down Cupid, looking at Grizzly Peak D and the connecting ridge.

Grizzly D, with Torreys Peak and Grays Peak seen to the left and in the distance.

On the way up Cupid, I passed the first couple I met, two Colorado natives and their dog who were repeating the Grizzly D climb. They weren’t in a rush and were happy to chat. I envied them a bit, as it seemed like they lived close enough to make hikes like this a regular part of what they do. No such opportunity at home for me, deep in the Southern Plains. Grizzly D was a bigger deal to me than them. Still, outpacing a Colorado pair gave me a little confidence boost. Maybe my conditioning was a little better than I thought.

Heading down Cupid, the scale of these “bumps” became clearer. The hiking up and around them was steeper than they seemed at first glance, but again, I was feeling pretty good and plowed through. Going over the last one, I got a good look at the path up Grizzly D: It looked steep, and ahead of me, a couple of other hikers were picking their way up.

In the middle of the ridge, looking back on Cupid and a high spot on the ridge.

Still in the middle of the ridge, looking toward another high spot, with Grizzly D in the background.

I figured it would be a lung-buster, but the final ascent was only about 500 feet or so. I could grind this out and reach the summit without eating too much time.

The hike up Grizzly’s summit pitch was as tough as it looked. Already, I was dreading the downclimb, as the path was steep and, in spots, sandier than I would have preferred. My pace slowed some, but I could tell that I was closing in on the pair I spied a few minutes earlier. I had no plans to catch them – I mean, what would that actually prove? – but it was useful observing them and the time it was taking them to negotiate sections of the climb that were still ahead of me.

Starting up Grizzly D. looking back toward Cupid. Not bad at this point, but it was getting ready to get steeper.

About three-quarters of the way up, it seemed the route relented a bit and before long I was on top. A younger couple, also from Colorado, and their dog were resting and taking in the views when I got there.

“You were making good time,” the man told me.

“Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good today,” I replied, letting my head swell a little bit at the idea of being close to passing two – count em, two! – pairs of Colorado natives with my flatlander legs and lungs.

On the Grizzly D summit, looking toward Torreys Peak (left) and Grays Peak.

Summit view looking west.

We all looked toward Torreys Peak, and what would have been a ridge traverse very similar to what we just did, just much longer and bigger. It wasn’t in the cards time-wise for me, and really, I wasn’t here to blow myself out just for some hiking bragging rights. I still had a couple days of mountain ascents ahead of me. I snacked a bit, drank up and headed back down the mountain.

The downclimb turned out to be easier than I thought. Part of the reason is I spent my winter and spring pounding my legs in the weight room. It’s amazing how much that made a difference, both going up and down the hill. I also descended at my own pace, which is pretty slow. But I felt good when I got to the bottom.

Looking at Cupid on the way down.

It was there that I ran into my last pair of hikers on the route. Two fellas were on their way up, and we talked for a bit about the mountain and what they were up to.

These guys were 69 and 70 years old. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see people at that age still slaying summits. Even better, the older of the two was doing his last training hike before heading up to Washington state to climb Mount Rainier, a mountain he’d already climbed years ago. They passed along some tips on breathing technique, and you can bet your butt that I listened.

Now down from Grizzly’s summit ridge, I looked at the work ahead. Unlike most mountains, this one wasn’t a lengthy downhill to the trailhead. Instead, it means going up and over all the stuff I’d already done just to get here. The sneaky fact about this hike is even though the elevation distance between the trailhead and the Grizzly D summit is a tad over 1,500 feet, the actual elevation change you experience is closer to 3,000 feet. Regaining all those bumps on the ridge as well as the Cupid summit proved a bit tougher on the way back. Ordinarily, the trip down is much quicker than the ascent, but not so this time. My pace got a little more leisurely as the morning wore on, and the sandy surface of the trail on the last half mile or so was a nuisance, threatening to upend me and land me on my butt more than a few times.

Pleasant singletrack hiking back to the car.

When it was done, I got exactly what I wanted: a few miles at elevation, a new summit, and a look at a more ambitious hike for the future, maybe with a partner. I envision an earlier start, parking one car at the pass, another at Stevens Gulch, and hiking from the pass to Grizzly D, then on to Torreys Peak and Grays Peak before heading to the second car waiting below. That would be a big day, but possible.

And that’s what I like about Loveland Pass. It’s close enough to Denver to avoid the commitment of climbs farther west, but it’s also filled with possibilities for future efforts. There’s still plenty left for me to do.

I dig the colors of the alpine.

GETTING THERE: From Denver, take I-70 west until you get to the U.S. 6 west exit, which takes you to Loveland Pass. At the top of the pass is parking on both sides of the road.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: From the trailhead, hike up some stairs, then toward the hillside leading to a high point between Mount Sniktau and Cupid. Instead of hiking to the top of the high point, turn right at a side trail that takes you toward Cupid. This will be easy hiking for about a quarter mile before reaching some switchbacks that gain the ridge leading to Cupid. The trail can take you to Cupid’s rocky summit, or you can bypass it just below the top before getting a look at the remainder of the route. Descend Cupid along the ridge and you will encounter four bumps between Cupid and Grizzly D. Some of the hiking is somewhat steep. Upon passing the last bump in the ridge, the rest of the route leads to Grizzly D’s summit. This is the steepest part of the hike, but does not exceed Class 2. The route eases somewhat close to the top before putting you at Grizzly D’s summit.

EXTRA CREDIT: Tackle Torreys Peak by hiking the ridge between it and Grizzly D. And if you’re really feeling yourself, continue on to Grays Peak, This would best be done with a two-car strategy, with one left at the Stevens Gulch trailhead and the other at Loveland Pass.

Bob Doucette

Strength training: Go with the four-by-four program for gains

Literally getting ugly with the iron.

Many moons ago, when I was a college kid with a fascination for all things weight lifting, the dorm director where I was living threw a two-part opportunity toward the guys: Sign up for a campus wide powerlifting meet, and he’d show us some tricks about how to get stronger fast.

That may as well have been catnip to me. I attended a seminar he put on and learned about his “four-by-four” program and immediately signed up to compete.

I didn’t do that great at the meet, but I learned a lot. And that four-by-four program stuck with me. I went from pushing around weenie-weight to rattling some plates in a matter of a few months.

Many years later, I found myself looking for a good program to boost strength in the big lifts: deadlift, squat and bench press. And I remembered that program my dorm director wrote out on a chalk board when I was a scrawny little freshman stuck in the “curls for girls” mentality of strength training.

I’m glad I went back to it. As challenging as it can be, it’s also been rewarding. Over the spring and summer, I’ve tacked on 50 pounds to my squat.

So how does it work? I’ve modified it a little: the original program was heavily dependent on doing singles, right up to a one-rep max. Nothing wrong with singles, but I think that’s a thing you should do very occasionally.

First, you need to figure out what your one-rep max is in the lift you’re performing. And then you’ll calculate some percentages to build the workout. Here’s an example of it looks like:

Warm-up with an unloaded bar, 10-12 reps.

Continued warm-up, 135 pounds, 8 reps.

Six reps, 60 percent of your 1RM

Four sets of 4 reps, 90 percent of your 1RM.

Two sets of 5 reps, lighter weight with a variation of the lift you’re performing.

So let’s say you’re working on your bench press, and you know your 1RM is 200 pounds. The workout would look like this:

1×10, unloaded bar

1×8, 95 pounds

1×6, 120 pounds

4×4, 180 pounds

2×5, 115 pounds, close-grip bench press (or some other chest press variation)

Or, say you’re squatting, with a 1RM of 300 pounds. Here’s what that might look like:

1×10, unloaded bar

1×8, 135

1×6, 205

4×4, 270

2×5, 150, front squat (or some other squat variation)

Finally, here’s what this workout would look like if you were deadlifting with a 400-pound 1RM:

1×10, lightly loaded bar (light bumper plates)

1×8, 135

1×6, 240

4×4, 360

2×5, 225, Romanian deadlift (or some other variation of the deadlift)

They key with making this work is to progressively increase the weight you’re using over an 8 to 12-week span. Back in the day, we were taught to go for about 10 pounds per week. I’m more conservative – I shoot for 5 pounds a week, and if my body ain’t feeling it, I’ll stand pat if I must.

You’ll also want to scale up the 1×8 weight a little as you progress. You don’t have to make that weight challenging; just heavy enough to give you some resistance while warming up your muscles. A lot of times, a 135-pound bar is great for lifters who are in that “intermediate” stage of strength training development.

One other thing: Let’s say you’re lifting legs twice a week. If you’re going to do the four-by-four program, use it once a week. On your second leg day, do another type of workout. Maybe something with the same or similar exercises, but lighter weights with more reps (I currently do a 5×10 workout, increasing weight with each set, but not topping out at more than 75 percent of my 1RM). That way you can still get in quality work, but not fry yourself in the process. And don’t forget to program a deload week every 6-8 weeks.

Include supporting exercises for the back end of your workout (maybe some reverse lunges, calf presses, leg extensions and kettlebell swings, if you’re doing a leg day workout) to round things out.

This is one of those plans designed primarily for strength. It’s not a hypertrophy workout (though as you get stronger, you’ll probably pack on some size), nor is it designed to get you ripped (that happens in the kitchen, homie). But it will help build a good base of strength, and as we know, that can lead to a whole lot of other good things.

Bob Doucette

Six hot-weather training tips for runners

This guy will make your outdoor training a little tougher in the summer. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Summer is rapidly approaching, and it’s a time when a lot of us are thinking about vacations, backyard cookouts and time at the pool.

But for the running crowd, it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of extra daylight hours to get in our miles.

One problem: The heat. Most places will begin seeing temperatures rise significantly within the next couple of weeks, and things really get cooking in July and August. Fun in the sun is great and all, but when you’re training, heat can wreck you. It can beat you and your workouts into submission, and if you’re not careful, cause serious health problems.

But if we only went out in perfect conditions, there is a good chance we’d achieve almost nothing. So my advice is to make peace with summer and learn a few things about hot-weather training to get by, at least until things cool off in the fall.

So here are six tips for training in the heat:

Hydrate. A lot. Before you go to bed, drink some water. When you get up, drink some more. And throughout the day, be drinking more water. Bring some with you (hand-held water bottle, hip belt or hydration pack) or be sure your route has drinking fountains available. Don’t wait till you crash to stop for a water break. Heat-related illnesses and dehydration are no joke. Is a gallon a day excessive? Not if it’s summer and you’re outside training.

Shade your face. A ball cap will help you keep a little shade on your face and direct sun off your head. If it’s a moisture-wicking cap, it will help you stay cool.

If you can, pick routes with trees. I love trail running, and many of my trails are in wooded areas. You’ll lose some of the breeze in the woods, but the shade will help keep you cooler.

Pace yourself. Your body will not be able to maintain the same intensity at 98 degrees as it does at 78 degrees or 58 degrees. But you will still be working hard, and that’s what you’re going for — putting in some hard work. Which leads me to the next point…

Watch your heart rate. Whether it’s just listening to your body or wearing a heart-rate monitor, those beats-per-minute will be very telling in terms of how hard your body is working. In the winter, you burn more calories because your body is trying hard to keep your core temperature up. But in the summer, it’s fighting — and losing — the battle to keep you cool. If your pulse is pounding in your temples at 180 bpm or more, maybe it’s time to slow down and walk a couple of blocks. No shame in that.

And finally, and this might go without saying, pick a cooler time of day to run. This means running pre-dawn or after sunset during the summer, but those hours will be cooler and easier to manage.

So there you have it. Use these ideas during the hot months. Or succumb to the treadmill. Your choice.

Bob Doucette

The strength experiment, a final word: What I did right and wrong

One thing about these guys: They’ll give back what you put in.

Much thanks to everyone who has hung on through this series on my strength experiment. If you’ve read the posts, you know why I did this, the workouts I performed, and what I did to stay healthy and ready to go.

This post is what I would call an “accountability” piece. Namely, what my results were, what went right, and what went wrong.

Before I go into all of that, a little guiding philosophy first. When you’re pushing for strength gains, you can’t do the same workouts with the same weight every week. You have to gradually increase weight in your lifts. The added challenge is added stimuli to promote muscle growth and performance gains. Otherwise, you stagnate and ultimately regress.

That said, I am very conservative when it comes to bumping up weight. Part of it has to do with a history of back injuries. I was steady but conservative on increasing weight on deadlifts, and even more so on squats. But when I felt it was appropriate, I moved up.

That said, let’s get to it…

THE RESULTS

I started out with a one-rep max deadlift of 320 pounds. Not too shabby, but in need of improvement. At the end of four months, that one-rep max stood at 350. Not quite twice my body weight, but a decent gain and 30 pounds closer to my goal.

I don’t like doing one-rep maxes on squats. I just don’t trust myself on that lift with the make-or-break stakes of a single. It should also be noted that my squat sucks out loud. I’ve had to work hard on getting the right form, and that meant dialing back the weight a bunch. When I started the cycle, I was doing a four-rep set with 225. When it ended, I was getting a four-rep set at 265. I think that would put me right at a 300-pound 1RM, but it’s all talk until you do it. Nevertheless, I’d call my approach on the squats ultra-conservative, and the gains were real.

Lastly, the dreaded bench press. What used to be my best lift is now pretty sad. At the beginning of the cycle, I was getting a max of about 220. At the end, I hit 240. That one surprised me a bit, mostly because I put very little emphasis on this lift, but I went ahead and tested it, mostly because it’s one of the three used in powerlifting meets. It was a pleasant surprise. I haven’t put more than 225 pounds on the bar in five years.

These aren’t really big totals. There are Crossfitter/bodybuilder/powerlifter/gym rat guys and gals who crank better than this. Just being honest. But there was some progress, and if you believe Men’s Health magazine, that 350-pound deadlift puts me in the “fit” category on that lift. The charts at one of the gyms I go to puts all my lifts in the intermediate range, or between intermediate and advanced, for my age and size. Not bad, with room for improvement. But more to the point, improvement is what I got.

WHAT I DID RIGHT

Dialing back the running. I’m a runner these days, so scaling back my miles was mentally hard. But what’s harder is getting stronger while pounding out 20 to 30 miles or more a week. Dropping that weekly mileage count allowed my body to rest and rebuild in a way that was conducive to strength.

Conservative progression. Some lifters and coaches advise adding 10 pounds a week to your lifts. I was more of a 5 pounds per week person. Go big or go home? Nah. There was one week toward the end I went the 10-pound route, but otherwise, nope. And I think that was the right speed. On some lifts, it was even slower. But progress was made, mostly without injury.

Workout design. I did a bunch of research and consulted with folks in the know to come up with the workouts I did. Not only that, I took care to place them at the right times of the week. They seemed to work pretty well, and did so without having to spend hours in the gym or doing exotic (and painful) fad workouts. Mine were simple, concise and challenging. Could they have been better designed? Probably. But these worked for me.

Sticking with it. I never let bad moods, busy schedules, laziness or anything else keep me off the program. Consistency is where I did best.

WHAT I DID WRONG

Lazy diet. I did a good job in getting all my protein. But I also ate more than I should have, and in many cases, in an undisciplined way. Too much junk. I gained about 8 pounds, most of it being the jiggly kind. Now I have to work that crap off. Yeah, there was some muscle gained, but not enough to justify that sort of weight gain.

A rep too far. In the last week of the cycle, I was really feeling the strain of it. Muscles and joints were barking. During a mid-week workout, I missed on a clean (I caught the bar, but at an awkward angle that tweaked my mid-back). It scared me a little, but I wasn’t in pain so I figured I got away with one.

Three days later, feeling beat-up and fatigued, I went through my lifts on the deadlift: 135×8, 205×7, 255×6, 295×5. They all went fine, even if I was a bit tight. I loaded 355 on the bar for a one-rep attempt and missed. An inch off the ground, but no more. The week before, 350 went up fairly well, so I figured I’d take a breather, reset, and try it again.

Big mistake.

I missed the second attempt, and my lower back freaked out for the better part of two weeks afterward. I suspected after the first miss that I needed to back off and move on, but I was prideful and wanted that gain. Bad move, and I paid for it. It’s now four weeks later, and I’m just now starting to deadlift heavier again.

So there you have it. Four months of work for a runner/hiker in the weight room trying to get stronger. I haven’t focused this intently on strength in many years, and after focusing on running over the past five years, I had a lot of ground to make up.

Will I get my miles back up? Yes, especially when the fall rolls around. Would I do another strength cycle? Absolutely. I’m not young, but I’m not dead. Being stronger can only be a positive, and if I can repeat what I did right and avoid what I did wrong, who knows how far it will go.

Thanks for reading, y’all. Time to get outside once again and get back to writing about the wide, wonderful outdoors.

Bob Doucette

Strength experiment, part 4: Self-care outside the gym

If you want to lift hard, you need to learn to take care of your body outside the gym.

In previous posts, we’ve gone over several workout plans designed around the four main strength movements: the press, the pull, the squat and the hip-hinge. None of these workouts are terribly time consuming, taking anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes apiece. But they have been challenging and fruitful.

But there are important things that support these workouts that have nothing to do with lifting. What I’m talking about is self-care.

If you’re lifting hard, there is a good chance your body will accumulate fatigue, painful tweaks and even injuries. That’s a fact of life. But you can stave off serious problems if you do the right things outside the weight room. That’s what this post is all about. I’m going to lay out what I did, and tell you why it’s important when trying to build strength and stave off injuries.

Take your rest day: I believe wholeheartedly that one day a week should be reserved for rest. You pick the day, but on your rest day, the most active things you should do are peaceful walks outside, or an easy bike ride. No lifting, no rigorous conditioning, nothing that taxes your body. If you’re not sure where that line is, then plant your butt on the couch and binge-watch a show on Netflix, catch a ballgame on TV or read a book. Rest is critical.

Get your sleep: The prime time for recovering from hard workouts is when you’re flat on your back catching some Z’s. People’s sleep needs vary, but I’d advise getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Become friends with a foam roller: The foam roller is an excellent tool for getting ready for a workout, or recovering afterwards. I use it a lot on my back. It’s like my little tubular chiropractor. But I also use it to work on the fascia tissues in my legs, hips, back, shoulders and elsewhere. Healthy fascia means more mobility , and more mobility means better athletic training and performance.

Eat right: I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t eat crap. Just because you burn calories working out doesn’t give you license to eat junk that piles on bad calories. Better food is better fuel, and promotes athletic performance and muscle-building. This means getting an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. On the protein front, I’d advise consuming at least .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. One gram per pound of body weight is even better. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done. Short-changing yourself on protein will make strength gains difficult to achieve, if not impossible.

Do the deload week: There should be one week every four to six weeks where you do a “deload,” where you back off the intensity. There are a lot of ways to do this, but generally speaking, take down the amount of weight you use for a week and allow your body to catch its breath, so to speak. Focus on form, get your lifts, but be a little more chill. I always bounced back from a deload ready to take the next leap forward.

Work on your postural alignment: When most people think about the term “posture,” they think about standing or sitting up straight. Ut goes way beyond that and is far more clinical than avoiding the slouch. The biggest part of this post is going to go over this subject.

Postural alignment deals with the proper positioning of the spine, shoulders and hips. Good postural alignment in these areas means your body will move fluidly, efficiently and correctly. A posturally aligned body will be less likely to suffer from overuse injuries and joint problems.

Conversely, a posturally imbalanced body will be far more likely to injure muscles and joints, and be more prone to overuse injuries. Overuse injuries often happen in sports as well as in training exercises like running. It’s been said that continued physical exertion in a posturally imbalanced state is like hammering a bent nail: You only reinforce the existing problems while never achieving the desired goal.

So how do you fix your postural alignment? There are a number of relatively passive exercises developed by Pete Egoscue that are designed to do this. Having used them, I can tell you they work.

With some guidance, I put together a battery of exercises I like to do in the mornings that help my particular imbalances. My hips are slightly off, as are my shoulders. I have some kyphosis in my back. All of this will affect my strength training, running and overall athletic performance negatively. The more I can resolve these issues, the better prepared I’ll be to tackle new physical challenges.

My exercises:

Static back.

Static back: This uses gravity and positioning to help my back become straighter and less curved. 3-5 minutes.

Static extension.

Static extension position: This fights rotation in your hips and shoulders and straightens the back. 1-2 minutes.

Wall drop.

Wall drop: While also helping straighten the back, it also helps loosen the musculature in the entire posterior chain: calves, hamstrings, glutes and the back. This also combats anterior pelvic tilt, which can severely impede overall mobility. Lastly, it assists in getting your head in a more neutral, less forward-tilted position. 3-5 minutes.

Upper spinal floor twist.

Upper spinal floor twist: This targets the upper to mid back, opening it up and pulling the body out of a rounded state and pulling the shoulders back. This will help prevent shoulder injuries, open up the chest, and thus enhance air intake and lung capacity. 1 minute each side.

Counter stretch.

Counter stretch: This helps pull your spine out of excessive curvature in your lower back and mid/upper back, repositions should shoulders and properly realigns your pelvis. Again, key components of proper mobility. 1-2 minutes.

There are postural alignment specialists scattered all over the country who are certified through Pete Egoscue’s system. Google “Egoscue” and your city and find them (I happen to know a good one in Tulsa 😊). A properly aligned spine improves your core stability and capacity to take on bigger loads in weight training.

Additionally, proper alignment will help your cardiovascular performance. I can tell you from experience that these exercises have helped me breathe better in races.

That’s my take on self-care during a strength cycle. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my own results, as well as break down what I did right – and what I did wrong.

Bob Doucette

Strength experiment, part 3: Posterior chain, aka, working your backside

The primal joy of the deadlift. Sah-weet!

It’s been fun recapping the strength workouts I did over the winter. Some are harder than others. Today we’re going to hit on an area that, for most people, offers the greatest potential for growth, and yet is often sorely neglected: the posterior chain.

So, what the heck is that? Simply put, it’s all the musculature on the back side (posterior) of your body, starting with the muscles in your neck all the way down to your hamstrings. So many people focus on the “mirror muscles” – the muscles they see when looking their reflection – that they forget about crucial areas which will make or break you athletically, and will affect your long-term health.

Let me lay out some truth to you. You cannot be strong if your back is weak. You will not stay healthy is your back is weak. You will likely become injured, physically compromised and otherwise headed toward greater immobility if your back is weak. Bench-pressing a truck is great. So is squatting a house. You will do neither if your back is weak.

And think about all the other things you do. Running, skiing, hiking, backpacking, recreational sports – just about anything, really – depends greatly on a strong back, and will be hindered if you are weak in this area. Some of the most debilitating injuries you can imagine are back injuries, and if your spine is not protected by strong back and core muscles, you WILL hurt your back. It might happen while grabbing a rebound. Or on a 20-mile hike. Or while running your next half-marathon. Or picking up a basket of laundry. That’s the truth, folks.

Here’s another: The deficiencies in your back can be solved by you.

Earlier this week, I mentioned the four main movements of strength training. One of those was the hip-hinge. Another was the pull. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

When describing “pulls,” we’re talking about pull-ups, chin-ups, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and cable pulls. These will primarily work the lats, those big muscles that flank the spine from your armpits down to your tailbone. Your biceps will also get some work here, as will the muscles on the back side of your shoulders. Being strong in these areas will go a long way toward balancing your anterior workouts and promote shoulder health as well as back strength.

Hip-hinge exercises are deadlifts, hip thrusters and kettlebell swings. The latter two exercises are great at working the glutes and hamstrings. But the deadlift rules them all. Deadlifts work the glutes and hamstrings while also giving your quadriceps some love. But wait, there’s more! Deadlifts will also work all the muscles in your back – from the muscles at the base of your neck to the base of your spine. An added benefit is holding a weighted barbell does wonderful things for improving grip strength. Master the deadlift and you will become strong.

I do two posterior chain workouts per week. The first one is an “easy” day. The second one is the toughest, most taxing workout of the week. Done right, these workouts will become the core of building strength.

Here’s the plan:

“Easy” day posterior chain workout

Lat pulls, 3×8

Cleans, 3×5

Seated cable rows, 3×10

Straight-arm cable pull-downs, 3×10

Mix in some core work and you’re good to go.

One note: If you haven’t done cleans before, go light and practice the form. This is a tricky, skill-based Olympic-style lift that will build back strength and overall explosive power, but get it wrong and you’ll jack up your back.

“Hard” day posterior chain workout

Warm-up: Pull-ups, 8, 9 and 10 reps; Sumo deadlifts with a kettlebell, 3×10

Barbell deadlift, 8, 7, 6, 5 reps (escalating weight with each set). If you’re brave, try adding fifth set of a 2-rep or a single rep with a heavy weight that you’re not sure you can get.

Standing horizontal cable pulls, 3×10 (escalating weight)

Farmer’s walk, loaded trap bar, 3 sets, walk with the weight for 45 seconds per set

Dumbbell bicep curls, 3×12 (escalating weight)

Hammer curls, 3×10 (escalating weight)

Throw in some planks and dead bugs, 3 sets each.

I added in the dumbbell curls to give your biceps a little more love.

But what I really want to address is the farmer’s walk. Such a great exercise. If you don’t have a trap bar, you can carry plates or dumbbells. The farmer’s walk, or any other loaded carry, works your back, legs and core. It will test your cardio. And it will build grip strength. This is one of my favorite exercises, and it has practical applications.

One last admonition: Form on the deadlift is crucial, especially when the weight starts getting heavier. You must brace your core and keep your back straight. A bowed lumbar is a recipe for injury.

So there it is. No lift scares me more than a really heavy deadlift single. No exercise makes me happier than the deadlift. And nothing is more satisfying than loading the bar with a big weight, walking up to it, and hoisting that bad boy off the ground. It’s simple, primal, aggressive and oh so good.

As a bonus: The deadlift is a total body exercise, and if you get strong doing these, you will get stronger everywhere else.

In the next installment, I’m going to discuss what I did for self-care during this strength cycle. It ain’t sexy, but it’s important.

Bob Doucette